The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade ends its LGBT group ban


New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks after being sworn in at City Hall on Jan. 1, 2014. (Seth Wenig/AP)

For the first time, an openly gay group will march in the 2015 New York City Saint Patrick’s Day parade under its own banner, months after Mayor Bill de Blasio (and Guinness) boycotted the 2014 event because of its exclusion of LGBT groups.

In a statement to the Associated Press, the parade committee said the “change of tone and expanded inclusiveness is a gesture of goodwill to the LGBT community in our continuing effort to keep the parade above politics.” While LGBT groups have in the past been allowed to participate in the parade as long as they’re not identified as an LGBT group, this is the first time an-openly gay group will march under an identifying banner. 

Although we don’t have an official play-by-play of the decision process from the committee, the LGBT group that will march in the parade happens to have a connection to the network that broadcasts it each year. OUT@NBCUniversal, an LGBT resource group for NBC employees, will march under its own banner in 2015.  Irish Central offers this explanation:

“In a historic move aimed at defusing the storm that erupted this year over the exclusion of gay banners in the march, the addition of a banner identifying gay NBC staffers is a compromise forged at the insistence of several New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee members, including Dr. John Lahey, president of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and Francis X. Comerford, chief revenue officer for NBC-owned TV stations.

NBC, the long-time broadcast home of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, was prepared to drop its coverage unless a compromise that resulted in the inclusion of a gay group was brokered.”

Other LGBT groups may apply to participate in the parade starting in 2016, parade organizers told the AP. NBC Universal Executive Vice President Craig Robinson told the AP that “we welcome the parade committee’s decision to accept OUT@NBCUniversal’s application to march and enthusiastically embrace the gesture of inclusion.” 

However, the committee also said it was “remaining loyal to church teachings.” As Irish Central reports, the parade committee will name New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan as its grand marshal Wednesday. The Catholic Church strongly opposes same-sex marriage, but some members of its hierarchy have taken a cue from Pope Francis in recent months and started using more inclusive language to refer to LGBT people.

To some extent, that includes Dolan himself.

“I know that there are thousands and thousands of gay people marching in this parade,” the cardinal said during the 2014 parade, adding, “And I’m glad they are.” At the time, Dolan didn’t weigh in on the specifics of the parade committee’s stance towards gay groups, or de Blasio’s boycott. Parade spokesperson Bill O’Reilly told the AP that Dolan was “very supportive” of the policy change for next year. 

Earlier this year, the mayor was joined by several city council members in staying away from the annual festivities in protest of the parade’s treatment of LGBT groups. And, some beer companies — including Heineken, Sam Adams and Guinness — pulled their sponsorship of New York and Boston’s parades. At the time, the New York parade committee’s Executive Secretary Hilary Beirne defended the exclusion of identified LGBT groups to the Wall Street Journal:

“The parade stands for a ‘celebration of Irish heritage and culture — nothing more, nothing less,’ he said. Mr. Beirne said gays and lesbians are free to march in the parade ‘to celebrate Irish heritage and culture,’ but he said there are no plans to change the policy prohibiting gay identification.

‘There’s another parade in New York City that celebrates being gay and being lesbian, and that’s the Gay Pride Parade,’ Mr. Beirne said, noting that he has gay family members. ‘Our parade is specifically for a celebration of our Irish heritage.’ “

The New York City St. Patrick’s day parade is, according to organizers, the world’s oldest and largest parade. It’s older than the Declaration of Independence — the first one marched through the city in 1762. Each year, more than 100,000 people march in it.

[This post has been updated to correct the name of Irish Central, previously referred to as the Irish Times] 

Abby Ohlheiser is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.
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